Making homemade chicken jerky is a satisfying process that rewards you with a delicious protein-rich snack. It’s a lean alternative to traditional beef jerky and can be easily customized with various flavors. Whether you’re using a dehydrator, an oven, or a smoker, the key steps involve slicing the chicken, marinating it with your favorite seasonings, and drying it to perfection.
Chicken jerky not only serves as a great snack on the go but also fits well within a conscious eating lifestyle. It’s high in protein, low in fat, and can be made without the preservatives found in store-bought versions. Those who are mindful about snack choices will find homemade chicken jerky to be a smart option for both fitness enthusiasts and families looking for wholesome treats.
Creating your own batch of chicken jerky at home is easier than some might think. By selecting quality chicken, crafting a flavorful marinade, and following safe drying techniques, anyone can produce delectable jerky. Plus, making jerky at home allows for complete control over the ingredients, ensuring that your snack is tailored to your dietary preferences and health goals.Jump to Recipe
Table of Contents
The Basics of Chicken Jerky
Chicken jerky is a lean, protein-packed snack that serves as a healthier alternative to traditional beef jerky. Mastering its preparation can provide a savory option that’s both convenient and nutritious.
Understanding Chicken Jerky
Making chicken jerky involves slicing chicken breast into thin strips, marinating them with a mixture of spices and flavors, and then drying them out at a low temperature, ensuring the meat is sufficiently dehydrated without cooking it. The key to perfect jerky lies in slicing the meat: strips should be ⅛” to ¼” thick. This size strikes the right balance, allowing the jerky to dry evenly and maintain a consistent texture. The process requires attention to detail to ensure safety and quality. Chicken jerky can be made in a dehydrator, oven, or smoker, which provides flexibility for those trying it at home.
Chicken jerky is a substantial source of protein, making it an ideal snack for maintaining muscle mass and aiding in muscle recovery. A typical 1-ounce serving of chicken jerky contains about 10-15 grams of protein, but only a fraction of the calories and total fat compared to red meat jerky. The snack is low in fiber, saturated fat, and cholesterol, which fits well within a balanced diet. When homemade, it also allows for better control over the sodium levels, often a concern with store-bought options.
The quality and flavor of chicken jerky greatly depend on the ingredients one chooses. From the cut of the chicken to the seasonings used, each component contributes to the final taste and texture.
Choosing the Right Chicken
One should select skinless and boneless chicken breasts for making jerky. The meat should be fresh and of high quality. Chicken breasts are preferred because they are lean, which ensures that the jerky isn’t too fatty and dries well.
The marinade is crucial for infusing the chicken with flavor. Basic ingredients include soy sauce or teriyaki marinade, apple cider vinegar or Worcestershire sauce for acidity, and honey or brown sugar to add a touch of sweetness.
Spices and Flavorings
To season the chicken jerky, one can use a variety of spices such as black pepper, ginger, onion powder, smoked paprika, and chili garlic sauce. For a smoky taste, a few drops of liquid smoke can be added. These spices and flavorings should be adjusted to taste.
Making chicken jerky involves a few critical steps to ensure the final product is flavorful and safe to eat. Proper preparation of the chicken is key, as well as marinating for taste, and arranging the meat for dehydration.
Trimming and Cutting the Chicken
To start, one needs a sharp knife and a cutting board to trim any visible fat from skinless chicken breasts. Fat can cause the jerky to spoil faster. Once trimmed, slice the chicken into strips, aiming for consistent thickness to ensure even drying. Partially freezing the chicken beforehand can make slicing the meat easier.
Marinating the Chicken
Marinating infuses the chicken with flavors and helps preserve it. Place the chicken strips into a ziplock bag with your chosen marinade. Ensure each piece is well-coated. Then, refrigerate the bag, allowing the chicken to marinate for several hours, ideally 12 to 24.
Arranging on Dehydrator Trays
After marinating, remove the chicken from the ziplock bag and lay the strips out on dehydrator trays lined with parchment paper. This prevents sticking. Arrange the pieces so they do not touch each other, allowing air to circulate freely around each strip during the dehydration process.
Chicken jerky can be made using a variety of cooking methods, each requiring different tools and time investments. Whether utilizing a dehydrator or your conventional oven, the goal is to remove moisture slowly at a low temperature to preserve the meat and impart flavor.
Using a Dehydrator
A food dehydrator is an ideal tool for making jerky due to its ability to circulate warm air evenly around the meat. It’s essential to slice the chicken into uniform strips to ensure consistent drying. Place the chicken on the dehydrator trays, making sure they do not overlap. Set the temperature to 145°F and let it dehydrate for about 8 hours, or until the jerky is sufficiently dried.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, an oven can suffice. Start by preheating your oven to its lowest setting, ideally around 165°F, although some ovens may not go below 200°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the chicken strips on a wire rack above the sheet to allow heat circulation. Depending on the oven’s temperature, this method might take between 3 to 8 hours.
Alternative Dehydrating Methods
While not as common, alternative methods such as using an air fryer, smoker, or even a refrigerator can be employed to make chicken jerky. Smokers infuse a smoky flavor as they dry the meat, with the temperature and time similar to that of a food dehydrator. In contrast, air fryers can serve as miniature convection ovens, drying the chicken at a low temperature. A refrigerator offers a much longer and less conventional method, where the meat dries over several days on a wire rack.
Ensuring Food Safety
When creating chicken jerky, food safety is essential to prevent bacteria from thriving. Proper temperature and time control during dehydration and post heat treatment are critical steps to ensure the jerky is safe to consume.
Temperature and Time Control
To destroy harmful bacteria, chicken must reach an internal temperature of 165°F before beginning the dehydrating process. The USDA recommends heating the meat to this temperature to ensure safety. A refrigerator can be used to keep the meat at safe temperatures before dehydrating. During dehydration, the meat should be kept at a consistent temperature, which can be verified using a reliable kitchen thermometer.
- Time required for dehydration: 4-6 hours
- Temperature to maintain: 145°F – 155°F
Bend Test for Dehydration: The jerky should be dried until it bends and cracks, but does not break. This indicates that the moisture level is low enough to inhibit bacterial growth.
Post Heat Treatment
Following dehydration, a post heat treatment is advised to ensure all bacteria have been eliminated. By heating the jerky to 275°F for ten minutes in an oven, any surviving bacteria from the dehydration process are destroyed. This step is crucial, especially when dealing with chicken, as it ensures enhanced food safety.
Post Heat Treatment Steps:
- Preheat oven to 275°F.
- Place dried jerky on a baking sheet.
- Heat for 10 minutes.
Remember to store the jerky in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freeze it to prolong its shelf life.
Proper storage of chicken jerky ensures it retains its flavor and remains safe to eat. Here’s how to keep your jerky fresh in the short term and over more extended periods.
For chicken jerky that will be consumed within a couple of weeks, an airtight container is essential to maintain freshness and prevent spoilage. Store it in the refrigerator to slow down the growth of bacteria. Here are specific steps for short-term storage:
- Place the jerky in a resealable bag or an airtight container.
- Squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
- Refrigerate the sealed jerky to preserve its taste and shelf life.
For those who want to keep their chicken jerky for several months, freezing is the best option. To avoid freezer burn and taste loss, follow these guidelines:
- Wrap the jerky in plastic wrap and then place it into a resealable freezer bag or airtight container.
- Label the bag or container with the date to keep track of the shelf life.
- Freeze the packaged jerky, which can now be safely stored for up to six months.
Serving and Usage
Chicken jerky serves as a satisfying snack and can be utilized in various ways around the kitchen. It offers a high-protein, low-fat option that is both tasty and convenient.
Chicken jerky is an excellent snack for those who prefer homemade treats. It’s simple to store in the pantry and perfect for on-the-go moments. When serving, one might cut it into bite-sized pieces for easy eating, or keep them in strip form for a more substantial chew.
Tip: To maintain freshness, store the jerky in an airtight container.
Not only is chicken jerky a wonderful human snack, but it can also be used as dog treats when prepared without harmful seasonings. Ensure it is cut into appropriately sized pieces depending on the size of the dog.
In the kitchen, chicken jerky can add a savory note when diced and sprinkled over salads or soups. It can even serve as a savory protein boost in trail mixes, offering a variety of textures and flavors.
Kitchen Tip: Always check for doneness to ensure a safe snack for everyone!
Chicken jerky offers endless possibilities for customization, allowing one to cater to various taste preferences and dietary needs. Whether it’s creating a unique spice mix or swapping ingredients for health considerations, these tips can help make the jerky just right.
Experimenting with Flavors
Bold Flavors: One can craft a flavorful marinade by mixing ingredients like barbecue sauce, lemon juice, and smoked salt. Adding a pinch of cayenne can bring a little heat to the jerky. For a DIY approach, a homemade spice mix can include a blend of paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, and more to achieve a rich taste profile.
Subtle Twists: If one prefers natural flavor, opting for herbs and spices without overpowering artificial additives can enhance the jerky while maintaining its original chicken essence.
Adjusting for Dietary Restrictions
(For Sodium Control)
- Low Sodium: Utilize low-sodium soy sauce instead of traditional soy sauce to decrease the sodium content without missing out on the umami flavor.
- Curing Salt: For those looking to create jerky with a longer shelf life, curing salt can be a useful ingredient; however, it’s important to use this sparingly due to its sodium content.
(For Sugar Alternatives)
- Sugar-Free Options: To cater to diets that limit sugar intake, consider sugar substitutes or natural sweeteners like stevia or honey.
- Savory Substitutes: Forgoing sugar doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor; extra spices or acidic components like vinegar can provide depth to the taste.
By employing these strategies, one can make chicken jerky as unique as beef jerky or turkey jerky, with customized flavors to match anyone’s preference.
Mastering the art of making chicken jerky involves precision and creativity, especially when it comes to drying and flavoring the meat.
Achieving the Perfect Dryness
Proper dehydration is crucial to making excellent chicken jerky. Dehydrator trays should be arranged such that there’s ample space between strips for air circulation, ensuring even dehydration. A pro tip is to use the bend test: after drying, the jerky should bend slightly without breaking, indicating perfect dryness. Jerky that’s too brittle has been over-dried, whereas if it’s too flexible, it’s under-dried and may not be safe for storage. Once the desired dryness is achieved, storing the jerky in an airtight container helps maintain freshness and texture.
Marinades are where one can flex their culinary muscles and experiment with flavors. Using a base of low-sodium soy sauce or a teriyaki marinade, enthusiasts can add various spices to craft a unique spice mix. Homemade jerky marinades might include ingredients like smoked paprika for warmth, crushed garlic for bite, or brown sugar for a hint of sweetness. The key is to balance the flavors to complement the natural taste of the dehydrated chicken without overpowering it. Marinades should fully coat the chicken strips before they enter the dehydrator for optimal flavor infusion.
Chicken jerky is a lean snack that’s high in protein and low in fat. It’s an excellent choice for those looking for a nutritious, portable food.
Protein: Chicken jerky is a rich source of protein, which is vital for muscle repair and growth. A single serving can provide a significant amount of the daily recommended intake of protein.
Total Fat: Typically, chicken jerky has a low fat content, especially if made from lean cuts of chicken.
Saturated Fat: The saturated fat in chicken jerky is minimal, making it a better option compared to red meat jerky.
Cholesterol: Chicken jerky contains cholesterol, but the amount is less than that found in red meat, aligning with a healthier diet.
Sodium: To preserve chicken jerky and enhance its flavor, sodium is added. However, some recipes are available that use less salt, reducing the sodium content for a healthier snack.
Sugar: Depending on the recipe, sugar may be added for taste, but it’s possible to find or make recipes with little to no added sugar.
Fiber: Chicken jerky does not contribute to fiber intake, as it is a meat-based product.
Carbohydrates: Generally, chicken jerky is low in carbohydrates, making it suitable for low-carb diets.
The micronutrient content in chicken jerky varies based on the ingredients used in its marinade and seasoning. It may contain trace amounts of minerals like iron and zinc, and if additional elements like citrus juice or spices are added, it can also offer some vitamins. However, chicken jerky should not be relied upon as a significant source of micronutrients.
Chicken Jerky Recipe
- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional for heat
- Prepare Chicken: Slice the chicken breasts into thin, even strips. If the chicken is slightly frozen, it will be easier to slice.
- Make Marinade: In a bowl, combine soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, minced garlic, onion powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
- Marinate Chicken: Place the chicken strips in the marinade, ensuring they are fully submerged. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
- Oven Preparation: Preheat your oven to 175°F (80°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a wire rack on top.
- Arrange Chicken: Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. Lay the strips on the wire rack, ensuring they don’t touch each other.
- Bake: Bake for 3 to 4 hours, or until the jerky is dry and firm yet still pliable.
- Cool and Store: Let the chicken jerky cool completely before storing in an airtight container.